Five things to think about beyond Sam Brincks’ potential as a receiver following Iowa’s 30-24 loss to Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday:
1. The good
Penn State’s 30 points were enough for the Nittany Lions to earn a win, but Iowa’s defense put up a decent fight.
Overshadowed a bit by the sting of the loss was another solid performance turned in by the Hawkeyes on the defensive side of the ball against a potent Penn State offense.
The Nittany Lions entered the game averaging 480.6 yards and 42.6 points, but mustered only 312 yards against the Hawkeyes, a season low for Penn State by 78 yards.
Iowa found most of its defensive success in slowing the Nittany Lions on the ground, limiting Penn State to a season-low 3.4 yards per carry and a season-low 118 rushing yards.
It marked the first time this season the Big Ten’s second-most productive rushing attack had been held below 4.7 yards per attempt on the ground.
2. The bad
I’m not going to pile on Nate Stanley.
The Hawkeyes’ junior quarterback endured as much heat on social media on Saturday as he did from the Penn State defense which sacked him a season-high three times.
Making his start in one of the Big Ten’s three mega stadiums, Stanley appeared tense and even statuesque at times and his inconsistency showed him his stats.
Big Ten football teams aren’t going to go into Penn State and win when their starting quarterback completes 18-of-49 passes and is picked off twice.
They also don’t put up those numbers alone.
Iowa’s blocking was sporadic, its running attack lacked quick strikes and its offensive line play was inconsistent against a Penn State defense the Hawkeyes caught on the rebound.
The one-track Nittany Lions’ mind was centered on bouncing back after allowing 511 yards in their most recent outing to an Indiana team that Iowa dominated the week before.
Penn State stated its intentions early, sacking Stanley for a five-yard loss on the Hawkeyes’ first snap of the game.
To his credit, Stanley shouldered responsibility for what happened.
He made his postgame comments in the dark, chilly night on an unlighted path outside the visitors locker room that doubles as an interview spot for teams visiting Beaver Stadium.
It was obvious that this one hurt, but it was a shared endeavor.
3. The ugly
I appreciate creative play calling as much as anybody, but when things didn’t go well for Iowa on Saturday, they really didn’t go well.
Take late in the second quarter when Iowa inserted Peyton Mansell into the lineup at quarterback and shifted Stanley into a receiver’s role.
That raised an eyebrow or two, but only led to more futile frustration.
The idea was to take a shot downfield on the left hashmark, but Penn State had things covered there and that left in the Hawkeyes’ back-up quarterback in scramble mode.
He ended up rushing for no gain on the fourth-and-10 play, putting the ball in Penn State’s hands at its 42-yard line.
“Basically, the play we wanted wasn’t there,’’ Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It didn’t turn out the way we hoped, obviously, but the idea was to take a shot for another score.’’
The Nittany Lions took the ball 31 yards on four plays before taking a 45-yard field goal by Jake Pinegar with 3 seconds left in the half and going into the locker room tied 17-17 instead of trailing by three.
4. The mystery
They’re getting plenty of defensive attention, but Iowa could have helped itself by giving a little more attention to its talented tight ends.
Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson combined for 119 receiving yards, but Fant wasn’t targeted until the third quarter and collected four of his five catches during Iowa’s final two possessions.
Hockenson ended up with three catches in a day that could have been bigger. Stanley missed a wide-open Hockenson downfield for could have been a six spot for Iowa in the second quarter on a third-and-1 play.
The Hawkeyes were leading 12-7 at the time and Stanley sold a run fake well before overthrowing Hockenson by nearly five yards.
It was that kind of a day for Iowa.
5. The aftermath
Saturday’s loss dropped Iowa to 3-2 in the Big Ten, but the Hawkeyes are still very much in a crowded race in the West Division.
The margin for error is gone.
The Hawkeyes will in all likelihood need to run the table if they hope to reach the Big Ten Championship game, running what has become a crowded race.
With Northwestern handing Wisconsin its second league loss on Saturday and Purdue falling at Michigan State, the Badgers and Boilermakers join Iowa in having two conference losses while Northwestern, winners in 11 of its last 12 games against Big Ten competition, tops the division with one loss.
The Hawkeyes’ final four games of the regular season are against West Division opponents, with a road game at Purdue on Saturday before hosting Northwestern on Nov. 10.
“There’s still a lot out there for us to play for,’’ Iowa safety Amani Hooker said. “We need to get back to work, fix some things and get ready for the next one. This was one game, not our season.’’